Turntable platters, mats, stabilisers comparison plus Headquarters Audio QVMatPro review

montesquieu

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Jan 27, 2019
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Ever had your intentions overtaken by events? Going back almost three years now, I thought an interesting lockdown project would be to do a fairly extensive comparison of turntable mats and stabilisers.

So, over a couple of years, I picked up quite a few additional mats and stabilisers (I had several kicking around already) duly worked up set of observations based on comparisons using various mat/stabiliser combinations.

More of this later – though in the end, it all got so large what’s here is only a fraction of the wordage I produced originally. What threw a spanner in the works was the arrival, right at the end of the pricess of a prototype mat and stabiliser – entitled QVMatPro and QVStab – from Headquarters Audio in Germany. This caused a lengthy pause for reworking of the material.

Not long before I was planning to post (late autumn of 2022) I was approached by Mike Christ after writing up – quite independently, following a purchase out of curiosity – his QStab puck for the Jay’s Audio CDT2 transport (of which I have a Mk3 example) and associated suspension mod. It’s here, if anyone missed it: https://www.whatsbestforum.com/thre...istening-impressions.27044/page-2#post-824327

After my comments in WBF, he contacted me to let me know he’d also been working on using the same material for a turntable mat and platter – and would I like to try it and provide some feedback as part of the prototyping process?

The answer of course was ‘yes’, though on some level, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to hear this news, given the effort put in to preparing the write-up. I’d more or less settled on a graphite mat + graphite, not too heavy, stabilizer, with the a leather mat and matching leather-bottomed stabiliser a fairly close second – at least in my setup.

But the Headquarters Audio combo duly arrived from Germany, and [tl;dr version] it was immediately clear that I had a new winner. Mike’s philosophy is best explained by himself on his own enjoyable web site https://www.headquarteraudio.de/ and on the videos on his YouTube channel, but amounts, essentially, to finding a balance, where vibration is not artificially stifled by damping (all damping is 100% verboten in Mike’s view), to allow musicality to flourish, but is nevertheless kept under control though smart design.

With the CD puck, I was completely unable to fathom a technological mechanism as to how this resolutely analogue approach was able to produce results in the digital domain, but the results are actually beyond question – it has been heard, and fairly obviously, by anyone I demonstrated it to, when comparing Mike’s puck with the standard one – if you have a Phillips CD4 or CD Pro transport my advice is simply to buy one, and don’t mess about.

But intriguingly, Mike’s approach fits in extremely well with my general observations from the two-year turntable mat and stabiliser testing exercise, and turned out to be the pinnacle of it.

Here’s a pic of Mike’s prototype version, as tested (if you wish to skip forward to the review and miss out on my other observations, the link is here: https://www.whatsbestforum.com/thre...ters-audio-qvmatpro-review.36621/#post-867201):

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Let me return to the overall testing exercise for a bit. I used my TD124 MkII, a 13-year work in progress which has progressed from a fairly typical lightweight implementation with a hollow plywood ‘Ortofon’ plinth with reasonably conventional Ortofon tonearm, to a fully Schoppered affair (heavy platter and bearing), combined in turn with Panzerholz-cored, wood-wrapped plinth, outboard regenerating and voltage dropping PSU, and twin Glanz tonearms - genuinely high end in my opinion, indeed I’m not sure an idler deck could really be taken much further than this one has. Testing where possible was done using both the original TD124 MkII pressed aluminium platter - mine is pretty straight thankfully, unlike some which are quite bent - and the cast aluminium Retrotone platter, at 975g, three times the weight of the standard one. VTA was carefully reset between each mat option.

In order to try and make things not overly specific to a heavy-plattered idler, most of the mats and stabilisers (if not too heavy) were also tested on the turntable in my second system, a more or less standard Thorens TD160b with SME 3009 SII improved. A nice deck, albeit a somewhat a poor relation to the TD124, it served as a useful check point

What emerged after much listening and comparison (see below for the detailed observations) were a series of principles that I think can be applied to mats and mat/stabiliser combos in general:

1) Mat- or bare platter-only can be quite an effective approach. A weight or stabiliser didn’t always bring a benefit with some mats or platters. This particularly applies to mats which provided damping in any sense. The star of the show here in terms of mat only was the Thorens TD124, the standard hard rubber one, held in place by the a pop-up centre around the spindle which is in turn bolted to the outer platter. The quality of this shows just how much its 1960s Swiss designers knew about getting the best out of a recording.

2) It might seem obvious mat, but deck-mat-stabiliser interface isn’t to be thought of a set of individual choices, but as a system. (I concluded that you can’t just pick any random combo because it looks good). Mats of hard material such as metal or graphite need a different sort of weight to fabric or leather mats - seems obvious, but decks themselves seldom come with a weight or clamp or stabililser as part of the package (Max Townshend was, as ever, way ahead of the game there), so in practice, most people end up trying out various different options.

I concluded that best results came when matching the resonance characteristics of the mat or platter (hard, soft, reflective, absorbent) with the characteristics (weight, material characteristics) of the stabiliser/clamp, and of course the suspension characteristics of the deck it’s to be used on.

3) Consequently, using the wrong mat with the wrong weight (eg a heavy weight on a mat absorbent of vibration) can seriously mess up the sound, with results ranging from shrill and over-bright, to ‘just right’, to all the life sucked out of the music. In fact, as I went along, I moved away from using anything that was clearly absorbent of resonances on the deck at all. This doesn’t necessarily mean that heavy weights are out of the question – I found they can still work so long as the mat or bare platter they are used with not made of or covered in any absorbent or deadening material (indeed ‘hard’ non-damping platters made of gunmetal, copper or bare platter metal such as aluminium worked generally well with heavier weights. Indeed, a notably heavy weight – brought on a visit by Mik Bhavnani of Unique Audio and not listed above – was very successful with the graphite mat, though this particular weight was of very complex construction (and had a price tag commensurate with that, way beyond my budget for this exercise) – I didn’t have it on extended trial but it’s a route that funds permitting could well be worth exploring.

4) Equally while having no weight can work pretty well with some mats/platters, some level of stabilising control, even if not heavy will generally, with most, provide an improvement in control.

5) Materials REALLY matter – this was proven by the last mat in the test.


Moving on, the list of combinations formally tested as part of the main exercise were as follows:

- Original TD124 MkII hard rubber mat with, and without Shun Mook clone African Blackwood record clamp
- Transfi Resomat with and without Origin Live Gravity One 67g weight
- Puresound Rubato mat (1.8kg solid copper, now replaced in the Puresound range by 2.2kg Tenuto gunmetal mat) with and without accompanying SPH solid copper 1kg weight
- Origin Live ‘Upgrade Mat’ and Gravity One 67g weight (and assorted other weights)
- Zavfino 1877 leather mat and Lycan 270g weight
- BD Audio Graphite mat (600g) with and without Chameleon Audio 750g graphite weight (and assorted other weights)

Actually, I had gathered a few more over the years - assorted hard and soft rubber of different eras and thicknesses, 4mm glass, 6mm acrylic, 6mm polycarbonate, even supposed premium offerings such as the Oyaide soft rubber BR12 and steel MJ12 on the same pattern - but none of these came up to level of the ones on the list above, and I haven’t bothered to list conclusions about them except to note that the rubber Oyaide, with or without weight, was a serious disappointment!

I did go through a large number of combinations. One key point is the usual disclaimer ‘ymmv’ -of course my comments below are specific to me. And it’s perfectly possible for people to come to other conclusions, especially on different sorts of decks. Nevertheless, I think my general points above should be broadly useful when considering the topic in the round.
 
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So here are a few of my specific observations:

TD124 hard rubber mat and Shun Mook clone African Blackwood clamp - I know of someone who won’t play a record without his Shun Mook clamp. Sadly the £5k entry ticket is a bit too rich for me but this clone - very faithfully done, out of North America somewhere - was actually pretty successful. It’s a clamp rather than a weight - though still 200g - and for that reason frowned upon by some for fear of transmitting noise from the bearing (and in this case, also the idler mechanism operating on the platter) to the stylus. However, I can’t say I detected any significant idler noise in my own setup, nor any perceptible degradation of the noise floor.

As noted previously, the hard rubber mat on the TD124, on its own, is actually a really good performer on this turntable and I kept coming back to it as my benchmark - quite a few alternatives had at least one down-side compared to it, and it worked very well not just with the Blackwood clamp but also with the 500g Chameleon Audio graphite weight and the 270g Zavfino Lycan. I think I think the trick is the hardness of the rubber, and the fact that the pattern on it is raised, which combined mean the mat doesn’t act as a damper on the record.

In general, I found that flat rubber mats (especially softer ones), while probably more absorbent of turntable noise (and therefore perhaps even useful on lower-end kit) were far less musically engaging, sucking the life out of performances even before putting a weight on top. The TD124 mat really only fell over if too much weight was added - the 1kg copper was not a great match, for example. Something lighter definitely required.

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Transfi Resomat with and without Origin Live Gravity One 67g weight – Acquiring this mat was what actually provided the prompt to undertake the whole exercise in the first place. I thought I’d have a go at the Resomat (really quite inexpensive – though I believe no longer available new) out of curiosity. Transfi have a record in selling an innovative, relatively inexpensive linear tracker tonearm, and their own turntables to match. Initial impressions were actually very positive - a very vibrant, bright, quite detailed presentation. But as I got used to the change, the whole thing felt a bit too excitable. In this regard, the 67g Origin Live weight felt light enough not to cause too much damage, while increasing control. Heavier weights, however, caused anxiety (all that weight on a few viny points) and also killed the sound too much. Still, this route – suspension on just a few, essentially non-absorbent points – has definite merits.

At one point I dispensed with the mat itself, tried fixing the vinyl points removed from the mat (actually a thin plastic disc) directly on the Retrotone outer platter – this worked really quite well, especially with the OL weight – but ultimately the end result was similar limitations – just a bit too much brightness for comfort. I also tried the REsomat on the suspended belt drive TD160, and it was perhaps more successful there, but ultimately with the same limitations.



Puresound Rubato mat (1.8kg solid copper, now replaced in the Puresound range by 2.2kg Tenuto gunmetal mat) with and without the SPH solid copper 1kg weight.

This option – the mat at least - has a huge number of fans, not least because both in the original Micro-Seiko style copper and also in in its new gold/gunmetal colour, it looks so cool. It also adds significant weight, so functionally useful in terms of speed stabilisation for idler decks (Thorens, Garrard, Lenco) or drive like the Technics SP10 – though not strictly necessary on my deck as I already had the 5.5kg Swissonor/Schopper inner platter.

Of all the mats, this is probably the coolest looker, whether in copper or gunmetal, and to be honest I was loth to move away from it, if only for that totally shallow reason. With no stabiliser, the sound was really a bit too bright for my taste, but with stabiliser it improved markedly – and the heavier the better it seemed. The ebony clamp helped too, but not as much as a heavy metal weight. The 1kg copper weight I tried initially had a disk of rubber-impregnated cork on the bottom – which certainly killed the brightness, but killed the music too. Removing the cork and cleaning off the glue brought things back to life. I think the secret of this combo is metal on metal, which provides solidity without excessive damping. Lighter weights meant less control over the Rubato, 1kg felt about right but it would have been interesting to have had an even heavier weight available. Ultimately though it didn’t feel quite right for my particular setup – and I had concerns about the necessity of clamping records directly to flat metal with such a heavy weight, trapping any grit that might be on there. Probably more a psychological anxiety than something of practical concern, but the unease meant that however nice it looked, it couldn’t stay.

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Origin Live ‘Upgrade Mat’ and Gravity One 67g weight. This mat is of light 1mm foam construction, and principally intended for bouncy decks like the LP12. It sat quite nicely on the TD124 using the Retrotone platter (it was just too thin to go on the thinner standard TD124 platter – taking it beyond the level of the Glanz arm adjustment) and with the Gravity One gave quite a decent sound though perhaps a little insubstantial on the TD124. Unsurprisingly, heavier weights progressively squashed the life out of it. It fared better on my TD160 (as did the Zavfino combo). I didn’t feel the OL was entirely at home on the idler though. I was intrigued by the Gravity One weight– very lightweight, but it had an effect used with various other mats that was quite marked. Of the two I think the 67g weight is the star and I could see it getting use in many settings. Origin Live do sale or return offer so maybe worth checking out the weight on its own if you are finding on your own platter that a heavier one is having too much of a damnping effect.

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Zavfino 1877 leather mat and Lycan 270g weight – This combo the biggest surprise of the main group, being both relatively inexpensive, but very nice performers both individually and separately. I initially thought that the leather would damp too much, but no – actually it had really nice control without overdoing it – the Zavfino Lycan weight has the same leather on the underside and again, controls without excessive damping. Also, along with the TD124 mat, the Zavfino is probably the mat that worked best of the main group without a stabiliser. It looks the business too. Quite an impressive solution all in, at any price, let alone at its modest cost. This would be my recommendation for someone looking for improvements without spending into multiple hundreds.

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BD Audio Graphite mat (600g) with and without Chameleon Audio 750g graphite weight – For me, of the main test group, this was the winner. The graphite mat – no longer available, though similar graphite mats can be had from Oswald Mills Audio and Chameleon Audio in Greece - while ‘hard’ in a strict sense, had a softer sounding quality than metal, nice to touch, and resonance-friendly, neither killing the sound from the record, not amplifying it to the point of harshness.

There was something very neutral about the presentation, neither enhancing anything nor detracting in any way. It just worked.

I tried various weights with the graphite mat, settling in the end on the Chameleon Audio weight, at 750g, worked better than the heavier copper weight. (Chameleon do their own graphite mat too). The graphite mat also worked well with the Zavfino weight too, and the ebony clamp, and indeed (somewhat surprisingly) even the OL weight at only 67g. The graphite mat proved to be a versatile option - I think it also looks the business too.

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And finally …

Headquarters Audio QVMatPro and QVStab - prototype

When the prototype HQ Audio QVMatPro and QVStab arrived, I kind of knew what to expect in terms of look and feel – they were made of the same bone-like material as the QStab I have on the Jays Audio CD transport. There is a slight roughness on the platter – though mostly from the dimples rather than the top surface - that fairly quickly made me abandon the habit (acquired nearly 40 years ago when I bought my first ‘decent’ turntable, an LP12) of placing and lifting a record while the platter is in motion, just in case of unnecessary friction. Probably a good habit to adopt all round actually, to physically stop the motion before making a change. I’m possibly being overcautions, but LPs are precious …

My first though was actually that the beige colour was a bit off-putting – it’s really not a problem inside a CD transport, but a turntable (in my living room at least) should provide aesthetic pleasure and a sense of pride of ownership, so looks do matter. But the good news (just to get ahead of myself) is that this prototype has been superseded in the production version by a new formulation of materials that allows a black platter (or more accurately, a dark graphite grey) to be produced – I haven’t seen this yet but it’s undoubtedly a plus for potential owners.

On to the sound. Since my system had been pretty stable with the graphite mat and weight, I didn’t go any further with comparisons, and only did a back to back with those, again resetting VTA between changes. I had been positive impressed with the graphite in terms of controlling resonance without undue damping, but the QVMatPro genuinely tool this to another level. In terms of clarity (I suspect from a further improvement to the noise floor) but also a sense of ‘whole’, there was an immediate positive sense of musicality.

In some ways it reminded me most of changes when fitting the Transfi Resomat - which I really liked in many ways but rejected in the end as sometimes the resonance was so much encouraged to be free that in some circumstances, it became overpowering – the QVMat seem to have hit the sweet spot in doing all the good things the Resomat does, but without the slight feeling of ‘out of control’ that is an unfortunate side-effect of having the record simply sitting on small vinyl cones. The positive impact for me over the graphite was mostly in the clarity of the treble, the sense of space and ease, and the ‘musical’ sense of rhythm that gets the whole body responding. (I find Renaissance music with all its competing, crossing rhythms is the best music to get the internal organs jumping around).

Things really came into focus listening to a wonderful recording of German lute music by Eugen Dombois (I play various lutes including baroque lute myself but never cease to be amazed by master like Dombois) - the lute is really hard to reproduce as it’s a small scale, very intimate instrument with limited dynamic range, yet also wonderfully expressive within its volume limits. The HQ Audio mat kicked my lute reproduction up a sizeable notch which is quite an achievement! My wife came in and sat down for half an hour, she always loves anything by Silvius Weiss but she remarked on how musical things were sounding which only happens when things are really working well as an integrated whole.

As I like to do before I make a firm judgment on something, I got some hifi mates in for their opinion… two of my friends (both members here) duly obliged. The verdict after a bit of to-and-fro was overwhelmingly positive – albeit there was some negative feedback on the beige colour. With jazz, which we focused on during these sessions, the effect was generally around increasing the sense of naturalness and communication – the positive impact was actually quite substantial.

The only two minus points – it would be useful to have availability of a 295mm width which suits many turntables (including the TD124) better than 300mm of the prototype mat. Also sightly large diameter (by just a couple of mm) of the stabiliser was a problem when I tried to use it with an SPU. These points have been fed back to Mike and are expected to be addressed in the final product. The other point to note is that the production version will have a recessed area for the record label.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on too long on this. I held off posting the overall write-up simply because the arrival of the HQ Audio platter and stabiliser meant it needed so much re-work (I was all ready to go with the graphite mat and stabiliser as top dog), also I’ve been really busy on other stuff including lots of international travel. But anyway, glad to get it done and dusted.

As I understand it, the Mike’s mat and stabiliser will be officially on the market in May, it its graphite-colour guise (not the beige shown in the prototype). Final pricing is still to be set but is expected to be in the ballpark of 1200 Euros – not cheap for a mat and stabiliser by any means but in my opinion, 100% justifiable in a properly high-end system.

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Tom, can you inform me what thickness and weight the HQ Audio mat is? Is the underside dimpled or perfectly flat? I'm assuming the upper side dimples are concave?
 
I just checked, according to my calipers, 2.3mm and yes the dimples go in rather than out. The back side is flat/solid.
 
And weight, Tom?
As you know, I went from Vic's ResoMat, to the ResoPoints individually bonded to the platter.
Will be going onto Vic's ResoPoints/rumble buster mat.
I'm intrigued by using his rumble buster mat, but replacing the ResoPoints with this HQ Audio mat in conjunction.
 
I haven't weighed it but the QVMat is not a substantial weight and I think could easily be used on a bouncy deck just as much as on a high-mass platter.

The 'ResoPoints' seems to be the approach I tried, translating the Resomat cones to the bare metal platter.

On the rumble-buster, as with other approaches that use foam or other squishy material like soft rubber in the design, I'd be worried that putting something absorbent underneath introduces a level of artificial damping of resonance that would ultimately hurt not help. Though given my concern about the sound from using the Resomat cones being just a bit too excitable, I can see why this might generate an improvement over bare cones. No harm in trying it out!
 
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I have other misgivings about Vic's rumble buster/ResoPoints.
But the HQ Audio mat is of real interest.
Keep us informed when it's available to buy.
Agree about 295mm v 300mm making sense.
 
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Interested in HQ mat designer saying no damping at all. So I'm assuming he's not a big fan at all of heavy clamps, periphery rings, spongey mats etc.

Does he dissent from vacuum hold down as well?
 
You'd have to ask him, or at least look at his web site - there's a whole raft of his youtube videos on the topic.

My conclusions about most of this are either explicity stated above, or could be inferred - heavy clamps - depends on the mat/platter (seem to work ok with metal, a total no-no on anything too soft/absorbent); periphery rings - I remember having a set on my first Garrard 401 but was never entirely convinced by them, and I didn't bother on my second one, though I already had the TD124 MkII by then so it was for my second system; spongey mats - a definite no from me; vacuum - that's an interesting one I hadn't really considered, as vacuum has other benefits such as flattening warped vinyl, but it's hardly common and as with many things there may be multiple factors at play as to whether a particular implementation is more or less successful vs other approaches.

BTW total weight of the HQ Audio mat + stabiliser is 325g - at least on this prototype sample.
 
What is the best advice on how heavy a record weight a direct-drive Denon DP-62L can handle?
 
Thanks for the detailed writeup. Interesting approach to think of the mat and stabilizer as a system. I have only tried the Origin Live Gravity One weight. Theirs seems to be a novel approach.

On my turntable (TW Acustics Raven One) I’ve tried a Herbies Audio Way Excellent mat, which is made of soft foam. It made music dull-sounding, lacking in energy and sparkle. I settled on no mat at all. The TW Acustic North American distributor agrees that no mat is best for the table.

I’ve done blind A/B testing of stabilizers. My turntable is in a separate equipment room so my dearly beloved swapped stabilizers for me, out of sight. I had two from Clearaudio, TTW, Stillpoints, Synergistic Research, and Vasotec, and then later the Gravity One. They weighed from 67g to 1000g.

In my test, my wife occasionally didn’t change the stabilizer and also at times used no stabilizer. I am happy to go into more detail if anyone is interested. But the upshot is that I couldn’t consistently pick out the individual stabilizer characteristics. Furthermore, I was easily tricked when my wife didn’t change stabilizers when I thought she had, nor could I tell if there was no stabilizer. In fact, I don’t think my observations could have been any more random than they were.

On my table my ears could not hear a difference! Now, it’s easy to dismiss my conclusions (system not good enough, ears not good enough) but if you have a chance to do a real A/B test (even just start with a simple stabilizer/no stabilizer test), please report back. I’m convinced that visual cues are responsible for virtually all of the “differences” people hear.
 

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How do like your YAMAMOTO Carbon Fiber HS 4 Headshell?
Yes I really do! I use a combination of Yamamoto metal, wood, carbon, and the stock SME head shell. I think the carbon fiber is the smoothest sounding one, but the differences are subtle.
 
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The SPEC mat is very good if you don’t want to go the thicker carbon / graphite route.
Looks interesting, have been considering this for a while.
 
Yes I really do! I use a combination of Yamamoto metal, wood, carbon, and the stock SME head shell. I think the carbon fiber is the smoothest sounding one, but the differences are subtle.
Yes, I agree..... I like the smoothness, and tonal density it brings to the playback.... Some might find it a little rolled off in the top octaves....I don't..... Sounds very "NATURAL"....
CHEERS....
 

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